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The Complicated Issue of Choosing the Right Cat Food


Our cats eatingI was asked the other day what I feed our cats and I felt like I couldn’t reply without an explanation. I am currently not feeding our cats an ideal diet and I want to change that (and hopefully I will soon), but it is not as easy as it seems. I want to explain how I got to this point, what I learned, and what I may try next to improve our cats’ diet.

Rose and I have had cats since we moved in together a few months before we married in 1999. She had one cat, Sneakers, and fed him Iams dry food. Over the next several years we gained more cats and switched back and forth between several brands of dry food such as Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul, Science Diet, Max Cat, Pro Plan and then back to Iams again. All of these foods are what I would consider mid-level cat foods, meaning they are better than cheap supermarket cat foods but not high quality nutrition.

Of course, cost was one factor in our choice but we also had to find food that all our cats would eat. The reason we switched so often was because the cats would get bored with the taste after a while and become finicky. Who could blame them? We gave them wet food as an occasional treat or sometimes they would get some tuna.

Flash - RIP

Flash – RIP

This went on until a few months after we got Chris at the end of 2009. I think the turning point was when we lost Flash in April of 2010. He became very sick at less than five years old. I didn’t want another cat to die so young so I started researching a healthy cat diet.

My first question was whether I should feed wet or dry cat food and it was difficult to decide because everything I read was skewed very far in one direction or the other. On the one hand, dry food was better because it supposedly cleaned their teeth and prevented bacteria growth. On the other hand, wet food was better because cats evolved to get most of their water from their food and they become dehydrated from dry food because they don’t drink enough water.

In the end I decided the wet food argument made more sense. I also read that dry food contains grains and sugars that actually promote bacterial growth. I then learned of a third option after reading about Pottenger’s Cats…

Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr. (1901–1967) was using cats in a study of adrenal extract hormones but the number of donated cats soon exceeded his supply of cooked food so he ordered raw food scraps and fed some of the cats raw meat instead. The raw meat group appeared healthier then the cooked meat group resulting in a massive study of the benefits of raw meat involving about 900 cats. The study went on for three generations and by the end of the third generation the cats in the cooked food group developed degenerative diseases and most were not able to produce a fourth generation. The raw food group remained healthy throughout the experiment.

This led me to try to learn as much as I could about feeding the cats raw food. It turned out to be somewhat complicated because if you don’t include all the nutrients a cat needs, they could become very sick. It was also important to include  the organs and bones along with the meat, including chicken bones, which I had always been told to keep away from cats and dogs because they could choke. It turns out that cooked bones become very brittle but raw bones are okay for your pet and necessary for calcium.

I decided to test the waters and started with Bravo Raw Frozen Pet Food. This included everything except for a few things that I needed to add myself like fish oil and a couple of different vitamins that I can’t recall. Later I found a formula called Bravo Balance that had everything. My plan was to get them off the dry food and feed them just the raw food, but as often happens, things don’t always go as planned.

When I started feeding it to them, Chris liked it right away but our other cats turned their noses up at it. Bravo recommended mixing a small amount with canned food and then to gradually increase the raw food percentage until it was 100% raw. That was fine in theory but I could never get it much above 50% before they would reject it. Even Chris started giving me trouble about eating it.

I started experimenting with canned foods to mix with the raw. Some foods allowed me to mix a higher percentage of raw than other foods. The problem was that the higher the quality of canned food, the less they liked it. That left me with a dilemma. Should I give them more raw food with poor quality canned food or less raw food with higher quality canned food? For a while, I was mixing the raw food with Fancy Feast but eventually settled on Pro Plan. It is another mid-level food but all the cats love it. I only buy certain Pro Plan varieties. I avoid anything that says pasta or rice on the label to try to keep the grains to a minimum.  I also avoid the pâté or classic. Our cats like the cans with gravy or the ones that are sliced or braised. Pro Plan is not grain-free, which is what I want, but I have tried countless varieties of high quality food that they won’t eat so, for now, it is a necessary evil.

I settled on giving them a raw-canned mixture for breakfast and dinner, which is what I have done for most of the time since starting the diet.  After moving back to Florida I changed over to Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw, which comes in one once medallions. That was much easier because I could add one medallion to one small can of cat food. I believe Bravo and other brands come that way too now but I haven’t looked into it.

As soon as they were eating the raw food, I focused on eliminating the dry food, but I got resistance from an unlikely source, my wife. She thought it was cruel to not give them access to food 24 hours a day like us overweight, unhealthy humans have. So to make her happy I kept the food bowls but I only put a small amount in the bowls. I wanted the bowls to be empty at least two hours before it was time for the wet food. Rose didn’t care for that either. She would tell me I was starving the cats and even today, four years later, she yells at me when the bowls are empty. I know if I just fed them raw food and nothing else, eventually they would get over their “junk food” addiction and come to like it but that would never fly with Rose.

Since the raw food diet didn’t pan out like I thought and I was locked in to having dry food, I decided to try to give them the best food possible within a reasonable budget and one that they would all eat. I checked the ingredients of many different brands and brought samples home to try. Some they loved at first but after buying a large bag they wouldn’t eat it. Some they just wouldn’t eat at all. I finally came up with one that was reasonably healthy, grain free, and the cats liked the entire bag.

It’s called Blue Buffalo Wilderness. There are several flavors available like chicken, duck and salmon, and I buy a different flavor each time to keep things interesting. So far they still like it after some time.

A few months ago the cats suddenly became more finicky and would not eat the raw food mixture, or would eat some of it but leave most of the food behind. I tried changing to duck and then rabbit but those were even harder to get them to eat. I was soon forced to cut back to a half-medallion and then about two months ago I stopped the raw food altogether because there was just too much food left.

As an alternative I started giving them Instinct Freeze Dried Raw Treats. They were getting the Friskies Party Mix, which they love, but they also loved the Instinct treats which are much more expensive but also much healthier. I actually found these treats a year or so ago but gave them out sparingly because of the price. I now buy them in a larger six-ounce bag which cost less per ounce. The bag says “for dogs” but the ingredient list appears to be exactly the same as for cats. I’m not sure why but dog food is always cheaper than cat food.

The next thing I would like to do is buy a meat grinder and start making my own food. Perhaps using my own fresh ingredients might make a difference. Rose already thinks I’m weird because I recently started juicing and fermenting vegetables along with making my own toothpaste, if I start grinding meat she may just drop me off in Amish country.

I am also thinking about replacing their dry food with freeze-dried raw. I was looking into the taste and cost effectiveness of various brands a couple of months ago when I won a photo contest on BlogPaws. My prize was anything below $25 from Pet360 so I believe I chose Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Dinner for Cats. I put everything on hold and waited for my food but after a week or two I got an e-mail saying it was unavailable, then another that said it was available and would be shipped next week. Well, next week was two months ago so I think its time to just buy it myself.

If anyone reading this is feeding raw to their cats I would love to hear about it.

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